NORTH LAS VEGAS, Nev. (AP) — Republican congressmen who attended a House committee hearing in Nevada sharply criticized the Bureau of Land Management after hearing nonprofit and local government leaders testify about bureaucratic hurdles they face with the federal agency.
Four Republicans from the 44-member House natural resources committee attended the field hearing at North Las Vegas City Hall, including Nevada Rep. Cresent Hardy. They directed their questions to BLM Nevada Director John Ruhs, whose agency has significant influence in the state where more than 80 percent of the land is federally managed.
“Your agency is putting a serious economic drag on the area,” California Rep. Tom McClintock told Ruhs. “The picture that we’re getting is of an agency that couldn’t care less.”
Ruhs disagreed with that characterization.
Witnesses at the hearing included Clark County Regional Flood Control District General Manager Steve Parrish, who said his agency has to get permission to remove sediment from its own detention basins when they’re on land leased by the BLM. He recommended the federal agency turn over the urban land to a local government so there wouldn’t be hurdles to cross to get the basins ready for floods.
Clark County air quality department head Marci Henson talked about the permits the county needs when it decides to move dirt from BLM land it uses. The requirements aim to protect habitat of the desert tortoise, which is considered threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
“Does God have to get a permit too before the natural floods, or can God just go ahead and move the dirt?” Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas asked.
“As our current federal law stands, sir, I would submit that God needs a permit,” Henson said, drawing laughter.
Witnesses said streamlining the BLM’s processes could free up federal land — especially parcels that are located in or near urban areas — for economic development.
Critics with the Nevada Conservation League called the hearing a sham, saying it’s a cover-up for an effort to transfer large amounts of public land to private developers for a profit. Annette Magnus of Battle Born Progress, another group that advocates keeping land in public hands, called the hearing a “witch hunt” against the BLM.
“There are steps in place to sell back that land,” she said. “Maybe there are tweaks that can be made in Las Vegas. But overall the system has been working for years.”
Democratic State Sen. Ruben Kihuen, who’s challenging Hardy in a competitive congressional race, issued a statement calling the 90-minute hearing a publicity stunt.
Hardy stressed during the hearing that proposed land transfers would be for projects with an obvious public benefit.
“Every one of us on this committee and every witness on this panel supports protecting Nevada’s public lands and preserving our natural heritage,” he said in a statement. “But we also believe that there is a better way forward that will protect our public lands while also allowing the people of the Las Vegas Valley to thrive.”